Vermont to expand virus testing across the state

Vermont News

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont is expanding testing across the state as part of a broader move to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday that the state will be opening five new testing sites by the end of the week in Burlington, Middlebury, Waterbury, Rutland and Brattleboro.

Officials hope to have a total of 14 new testing sites up and running by the end of the month.

The goal is to locate testing sites within a half-hour drive of all Vermonters, said Human Services Secretary Mike Smith. The hours of the testing locations will be expanded to make them more convenient for more Vermonters, and the state also hopes to increase the capacity to 30,000 tests a week, he said.

The increased testing comes as Vermont is trying to tamp down a surge in coronavirus cases.

A number of large out-of-state employers have applied for a hazard pay program on behalf of their Vermont workers, Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak said Tuesday.

The companies, including Walmart, had not applied previously, Pieciak said. “Many of the larger out-of-state companies have decided to apply,” he said. “We had a number of them that we are still trying to get, you know, internal sign-off on.”

The deadline was extended to Wednesday for the program that provides grants of $1,200 or $2,000 for employees of essential business who put themselves at risk of contracting the virus by working during the early months of the pandemic. The employers must apply on behalf of their workers. The decision not to apply was criticized by a number of Vermont lawmakers.

Walmart initially said it had given employees special cash bonuses during the pandemic, and it felt Vermont program’s funds were more appropriately used by smaller employers who might have not been able to afford the bonuses. But the company changed its mind after learning Vermont had enough money for employees of larger companies, as well.

“We’ve listened to our associates and know they will appreciate receiving the one-time funding through the Vermont Frontline Employees Hazard Pay Grant Program,” Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia said in an email.

In a statement, the five state senators who urged the employers to apply for the program praised Walmart and the other employees who did apply, but they urged others who have not to do so by Wednesday’s deadline.

“It would be heartbreaking for these frontline workers to be denied $1,200 or $2,000 hero pay grants because the corporate HQ of their place of employment just can’t be bothered to take a couple minutes to fill out a form,” said the statement distributed by Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, a Democrat.

On Wednesday the Vermont Health Department reported more than 50 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to more than 3,160. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 17.71 new cases per day on November 3 to 91.71 new cases per day on November 17.

There are currently 17 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including two in intensive care. The Health Department reported that one person died of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total since the pandemic began to 60.


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